With this Mexican Drug Cartel Thriller, Denis Villeneuve completes his journey from overpraised Canadian arthouse/action director to Michael Mann manqué. (Can’t call him a second-rate Michael Mann since Michael Mann already fulfills that position.) It’s not a bad piece of work, just a carefully dressed-down Standard Operating Procedural about a Hostage Unit SWAT Team Member (Emily Blunt, dutiful & dull) who stumbles into a ‘Dark Ops’ drug task force run by freewheeling Alpha Male Josh Brolin (chewing gum in lieu of character development) and man-of-mystery Benicio Del Toro, a freelance avenger not picky about ethics or what side of the fence he’s working on. The film has an expressively dusty (and dusky) look to it, thanks to Roger Deakins' carefully considered lensing, and Villeneuve isn’t afraid to patiently set up big moments with small payoffs. But the story feels like used goods with preordained twists and turns; known to them and to us. Maybe that’s why he has everyone speaking in whispers; if we can’t make out what they’re saying, maybe we’ll imagine something fresh is happening.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: No fool he, Villeneuve opted out of the sequel (SOLDADO).